What Is Detailing and Why Is It Important?

You may think that detailing a vehicle is simply washing a car and vacuuming the inside. While these things are certainly a big part of detailing, there is a lot more involved.

What is Detailing?

There are many different levels of detailing, with many different packages and options, depending on where you go. A basic package can start around $100 for a simple hand wash, vacuum, and wipe down of the interior. More in-depth details that include paint decontamination and polishing can go into the thousands.

When considering a detail, it is important to know what services best fit your needs so that you can choose the appropriate package for your car. If all you want is a simple interior clean because you are too busy to do it yourself, then spending hundreds of dollars on a complete detail doesn’t make sense. Just the same as if you want your paint to be mirror-like, you won’t be happy with a single-stage polish and a sealant.

A decent detailing service will provide a quote on a vehicle to vehicle basis, performing an assessment on your car before giving a price. Every vehicle is different, and so your detailing package should be tailored for your specific needs.

What Services Can Be Expected?

It can seem like there is an overwhelming amount of services to choose from, and how do you know how often to get them performed? Here is a list of some common detailing items and how often we recommend they are done.

Interior Detailing

Keeping the interior of your vehicle clean not only looks better and prolongs the life of the materials, but also can benefit your health. Do you clean your car as often as you clean your home? There are hundreds of different kinds of germs and bacteria living in your car, and according to an environmental microbiology laboratory in London, Ontario, the cup holder in your car has over 200% more bacteria than the average household toilet seat. Yikes.

  • Vacuuming – This is a very basic detailing service and should be included in any package. Vacuuming the interior helps keep the cabin clear of dust and debris. Leaving dirt and sand in your carpet can accelerate the deterioration of the fibers.
  • Carpet shampoo – shampooing your carpet and mats will help remove tough stains so that they will look (and smell) their best.
  • Cleaning the dash, console, and interior vinyl – not only will this help your interior look better and reduce the bacteria in your car, it also prolongs the life of your vinyl. Dirt and debris sitting on any surface is abrasive and will eventually wear down the material.
  • Leather cleaning – leather is a delicate, natural material that breaks down naturally. The best way to keep your leather in the best condition is to keep them free of dirt. Dirt is abrasive and will wear at the leather, causing fading and cracking.
  • Leather and vinyl conditioning – this will help protect your vinyl and leather from UV rays and prevent fading and cracking. Conditioning your leather will keep it soft and supple and looking its best. Depending on how much time your car spends in the heat, it is recommended to condition your leather at least twice a year.
  • Steam cleaning – cleaning with steam is an effective way to clean almost all surfaces and materials in your vehicle while using minimal chemicals. Because it can take longer and involves a lot of moisture and a specialized machine it may cost more, but it can be a more environmentally friendly option.

Exterior Detailing

Many people don’t consider the fact that the paint on their car is one of the most expensive components on the whole vehicle. Neglecting proper paint care will eventually result in peeling paint and rust. Once the paint and clearcoat have failed, repainting your car is sometimes the only option to bring it back to what it was. A quality paint job that includes sanding, body repair, removal of trim and glass, a basecoat, and a clearcoat can cost in the range of 5 to 10 thousand dollars. Routinely maintaining your paint is a much easier and cost-effective option.

  • Hand wash – using brushes or going through the car wash is not ideal for the paint. The bristles on brushes at the carwash will leave millions of tiny scratches in your clearcoat, making your paint look dull and have a “spiderweb” effect in direct light. Touchless car washes are also trouble. The chemicals used to compensate for the lack of physical agitation are very strong and will strip away any wax or sealant, leaving the paint exposed to environmental contaminations. Hand washing with a dedicated car soap and a microfiber wash mitt is the best way to keep your paint clean and healthy.
  • Paint decontamination – tiny particles from the environment get stuck in your clearcoat and eat away at it, and eventually the paint. If you have red spots on your paint (most commonly starts behind the wheels and on the rear), then you have paint contamination. This will eventually lead to clearcoat failure and rust. Using a paint correction mitt or detailing clay will remove contaminants from the paint. The frequency this is done depends on your environment, how often you drive your car, and what kind of paint protection you use.
  • Polishing – this removes scratches in the clearcoat or paint. Deep scratches that go through the clear coat and the base paint cannot be polished out. Some scratches require several stages of polishing, using different levels of compounds and pads. All cars are unique in that they have different kinds of paint and thickness of clear coats. Some paints can be very hard and difficult to polish while others are softer and scratches buff out easily.
  • Paint protection (wax or sealant) – applying a protective layer to your paint after decontaminating and/or polishing it prevents contamination and even scratches (to a point) by creating a slippery and hydrophobic surface that deflects items from sticking to it. There are different kinds of paint protection with the most common being carnauba wax or a synthetic sealant. Carnauba wax is an organic material and while it provides a deep and wet looking finish on the paint, it needs to be re-applied frequently, usually only lasting approximately 3 months. Synthetic sealant is a more effective form of protection that will can go 6-12 months in between applications. Ceramic coatings are also becoming more and more popular; although the products are more costly and the prep work more intensive, some can last up to 10 years.

5 Reasons to Detail Your Car Regularly

Even if you aren’t a clean freak and don’t really care how your car looks, it is still a good idea to keep up on regular detailing. Just like other regular maintenance items, it can help prolong the life of your car.

  1. Increase the resale value. Maintaining the interior and exterior of your car can help you get more when it comes time to sell. Detailing before selling can increase its value by hundreds of dollars. A visually clean and maintained car gives the impression that it has been taken care of mechanically as well.
  2. Extend the life of your paint. Keeping your paint clean, decontaminated, and sealed will protect the metal underneath the paint and keep rust at bay.
  3. Safety. Getting your headlights polished once they become oxidized helps visibility at night, which means safer driving. Headlight restorations are a much more inexpensive option than replacement. Glass treatments also improve driving in rain or snow. Much like a paint protection, glass treatments make the windshield hydrophobic and slippery, slowing water to bead off quickly, and your windshield wipers to work more efficiently.
  4. Health. As mentioned above, your car is a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Just like you would clean your kitchen regularly to keep things sanitary, so should you clean your car. This can help fight illness and allergy symptoms.
  5. Pride of ownership. You may have saved up a lot of money to get the exact car you wanted. Or it might just be a means of transportation to you. Either way, detailing will help protect your investment and get more life out of it. Not to mention, it’s easier to take pride in something that has been well maintained. Whether it’s a Porsche 911 or a Toyota Corolla, clean and shiny looks good.

Excellence Is in the Details

Many dealerships and shops won’t present detailing as a necessary part of maintenance, but regularly investing in the health of your paint and interior materials is worth it in the long run. There are benefits whether you plan on keeping the car forever or plan to trade it in or sell it eventually. When it comes to keeping your car clean, there are many things you can do yourself, with lots of tutorials online. For specialty detailing services, like cut polishing and steam cleaning, bring your car to a professional who will take the time to assess your car individually and discuss the options that work for you.

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